Winemaking is an ancient craft, with roots that are somewhat mysterious. This has always been part of the allure for us: the sheer history of the endeavor. Our process remains fundamentally the same as it was then: grapes, naturally occurring yeast and time are the raw elements. Our philosophy is and has always been to use the old methods to make the most authentic, complex and delicious wines possible. To do this successfully and to make world-class wines every vintage, every detail and nuance needs to be prepared for, recognized when it occurs, celebrated and adapted to. There is no recipe, only us working in concert with nature. To us, this is when true beauty occurs.
We strive to make wines that represent a place and a time - with each growing season allowing for different expressions in harmony with what nature offers. The old saying “Variation is the spice of life” is fitting, and we embrace the detail and difference in each vintage and each vineyard, adapting our approach every year as a response to the growing season. We would never put a wine in a “box” stylistically, and force it to mold to some pre-ordained archetype. If there is a Relic style, we hope that it is one of balance, energy, complexity and harmony.
This requires a balancing act of techniques that is not always easily achieved, and our two decades of experience making wine guides us through the multi-linearity of the process to achieve this ideal. Working hard with our growers to get the best possible fruit, staying inspired and engaged, adapting to the vintage and letting the magic happen is our approach. We step in to gently steer the ship when we need to. As an old friend and peer once said: “Winemaking is the art of knowing when to do nothing.”
Our relationships with our growers are hugely important to us, as the grapes themselves are the single most important element in winemaking. We look for relationships with growers who have some of the greatest and most unique vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, and those who are invested in producing the best possible wine over a long-term relationship with us. We work with our growers to produce the highest quality possible by helping to determine the crop load, sun exposure on the fruit, air movement within the canopy, general training and architecture of the vine, irrigation (or dry-farming), and trying to achieve the ultimate balance between sugar, acid, flavor and phenolics at harvest. We try to buy fruit by the acre or row, rather than by the ton, so that we know exactly where our fruit is coming from every year; and build solid, fruitful relationships, so that we have consistent long-term sources for our wines. Many of the vineyards we work with are organically-farmed, some are dry-farmed, and all have the elements we think are necessary to produce world-class wine, as sustainably as possible.
We use native and naturally-occurring yeasts for almost all of our fermentations, usually by the pied de cuve method, aka using a “mother.” We start each vintage with native yeast fermentations and then generally settle on a few that we like especially well, utilizing them as we see fit. Occasionally, if the conditions are not perfect, we will inoculate with an isolated, propagated strain from a naturally-occurring fermentation. While we would like to be purists, we are also radically dedicated to producing the best wines possible.
We believe in the harmony of all wine's elements and that great wines have no element out of place, dominating the character of the wine. To this end, we are extremely gentle with our wines and age them on the lees for as long as possible, which allows us to use less sulfur dioxide due to the natural antioxidant compounds in the lees. We use French oak, stainless steel and sand ceramic vessels where appropriate, depending on the goal.
We believe in the harmony of all wine's structural elements - alcohol being one of them. Our alcohols range from the 12.8% to 15.3% depending on the best expression of the vineyard and the growing season.
Blending is one the great joys of winemaking. We strive to make naturally harmonious wines that have it all: aromatic fireworks, excellent mouthfeel and structure, real character and a long finish.
We utilize whole clusters in some of our fermentations: nearly always 20-40% with Pinot Noir, and occasionally with Carignane, Syrah and Grenache. Stem ripeness and lignification is key to the success of this approach, and this is another element which we would never want to dominate. What we are looking for here is complexity, aromatics and structure.